Sector trends

Professional services: post-pandemic skill sets

What new competencies will help professionals stand out in the post-coronavirus workplace? 

Deborah McGargle is chief legal officer at SeedLegals

“Digital transformation teams in law firms around the world have spent much of their careers dragging partners into the 21st century on a never-ending ‘convincer’ treadmill, explaining why certain technologies should be embraced. Then, practically overnight, remote working turned all eyes on them and their ability to mobilise entire departments and businesses within a matter of days. The ability to use new technologies must now take centre stage on any CV, both in the short term and the long term.

“Interchangeable cloud-based document repositories, digital signatures, and a plethora of conferencing facilities have not just become the new normal, they are practically the only way the legal wheels can keep turning, leaving lawyers with no choice other than to embrace digital technology – and do so quickly.

“The post-pandemic landscape has redefined the customer experience and lawyers will need to consider what real value is delivered in those early encounters. With conference rooms being replaced by screens and networking taking place on a ‘one-to-many’ basis, the client-lawyer relationship, which often takes years to build, is also experiencing its own overhaul.

“A one-hour video call from a spare bedroom with an obligatory bookcase in the background doesn’t quite create the impression that a senior partner was hoping for with a new high-target client. Teams must focus on their ability to communicate openly, honestly, and authentically with their clients.

“Communication has always been the cornerstone of the legal profession, but coronavirus has codified the language. This all amounts to a change for good. The pandemic has not only expedited the long-felt frustrations of clients worldwide, shifting the legal profession into a leaner, more agile solution, but it has aligned them with the tools their clients are actually using on a daily basis.”

Kirstin Gillon is technical manager, IT faculty

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

“Accountants will need a blend of technical accounting, business, digital and data analysis, and soft skills to succeed. However, the latter two areas have been significantly accentuated by the new normal. The rapid digital transformation driven by lockdown has accelerated the pace of digital adoption, and in the short to medium term, virtually all organisations will be focusing on using technology to reduce costs, while using data to make better decisions. In terms of soft skills, the pandemic has required people to communicate differently, emphasised the need for collaboration, and challenged people’s flexibility and resilience.

“In as much as coronavirus has accelerated and emphasised some existing trends, other influences, such as technology and automation, are changing the role of the accountant and the demands placed on them by clients and businesses. For example, automation can handle repetitive tasks and free up the accountant’s time to focus on higher-value work.

“In an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace, there is huge demand for better data and insight to support business decision making. Accountants will need deeper business knowledge and strong communication and problem-solving skills to deliver what their clients need.

“Accountants will need greater knowledge of and confidence in using technology; not necessarily the deep expertise that will remain the domain of data scientists and IT specialists, but the skills to be intelligent users of tools, to understand potential risks about data outputs, undertake a certain amount of analytics work, and to be able to work effectively alongside the tech experts. Technology will continue to evolve and change at a rapid pace, and therefore having an attitude that embraces change and learning new skills will be critical.”

Hannah Beko is a partner, commercial real estate

Executive coach, and trainer at challenger law firm Gunnercooke

“The pandemic has simply pushed forward a scenario that was already coming through. Lawyers have been aspiring to a better work-life balance and increased job satisfaction for some time. Lockdown has given many of them a chance to reconsider what’s important to them, and to proactively enhance their skills for their future career.

Law firms must recognise that while some components of technical, fact-based training can be successfully delivered online, skills such as communication and leadership will always be more impactful and effective when delivered in person

Hannah Beko
Partner at Gunnercooke

“AI-powered technology is increasingly being adopted by the legal sector, and yet the pandemic has shown that human interaction and communication is more valuable than ever. Rather than worrying that artificial intelligence will replace lawyers, the focus should be on using it to become more effective in our roles, provide greater flexibility and a better work-life balance. With enhanced technology, more processes can be automated, such as file opening, billing, and compliance – tasks that don’t require as much human interaction. This would free up a lawyer’s time to do what they do best while reducing stress and pressure.

“Let’s not forget the importance of physical interaction. A year ago, I conducted a survey of lawyers about an online skills course I was planning to develop. Their response was negative: they preferred in-person training. Online training is more cost-effective and accessible for a larger number of people. Law firms must recognise that while some components of technical, fact-based training can be successfully delivered online, skills such as communication and leadership will always be more impactful and effective when delivered in person.”

Lee Owen is a director at Hays Accountancy and Finance

“Emerging from the pandemic, employers in the finance sector will be recruiting for new skills, notably adaptability and flexibility to cope with the upcoming change. Accountants can demonstrate these skills by being receptive to new ideas, being curious, and bouncing back when things go wrong. Change-management experience will be important for accountants who want to stand out as a jobseeker.

“Widespread remote working has made communication skills highly sought after by employers. With the proliferation of multiple communication platforms and channels, from video calls to messaging apps, accountants need to know how often to communicate and which technology to use.

“In finance specifically, we anticipate a greater demand for systems accountants or finance professionals with strong business intelligence skills, as organisations seek to make their finance functions more efficient while delivering more meaningful management information at the touch of a button. Roles in this area have certainly flourished since the onset of the pandemic and will continue to do so throughout the year.”

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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